In 1944, a 16-year-old started manufacturing bicycle components at Amritsar along with his three brothers. The boy, Om Parkash Munjal, later went on to become the doyen of India’s bicycle industry. Munjal (87), the chairman emeritus of Hero Cycles, passed away after a brief illness on Thursday morning at Ludhiana’s Dayanand Medical College and Hospital (DMCH).
But there was more to Munjal than his spectacular corporate success. Bauji, as he was fondly called, was popular for his philanthropic activities, and his spontaneous shayari (Urdu poetry). His love for Urdu language, art and culture was known to all those who knew him well.
“People knew him for his industrial acumen, but he was equally popular in literally circles for his love for Urdu poetry. He remembered many couplets and recited them to suit the occasion. He was the chief patron of Adeeb International Society, which organised Jashn-e-Sahir and many other activities throughout the year,” noted Urdu poet, Kewal Dheer, said. Dheer added that Munjal was instrumental in bringing many good artists to Ludhiana to promote art and culture. The family, which originally hailed from Pakistan’s Kamalia Tehsil, had gradually shifted base to Ludhiana post-Independence.
In 1956, Hero Cycles was born as a company with a small investment of Rs 50,000. What started with a small bicycle manufacturing unit has today touched a turnover of Rs 1,634 crore, with the turnover of the Hero Cycles group companies pegged at Rs 2,222 crore.
Munjal’s company, which began by manufacturing the traditional black bicycle, was the first one to come up with an idea of an electric bike. Today, Hero is also known for its fancy, adventure bikes. In July, the company set a record of manufacturing 5.35 lakh bicycles in a month.
As the city mourned his death, Munjal’s friends and competitors recalled the good times spent with him.
“Ludhiana is synonymous with Hero Cycles – a company that entered the Guinness book in 1986 for being the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer and put the city on the world map,” Onkar Singh Pahwa, MD of Avon Cycles, said.
“I always sought guidance from him. At social gatherings, where I accompanied him, he always introduced me in a unique way. ‘Meet my competitor and my son, Onkar’ – he would say. I learnt so much from him. Competition was next to impossible,” Pahwa added, calling Munjal a true ‘Hero’.
Owner of Neelam Cycles, KK Seth, spoke in sync, “He never saw us as competitors, rather he encouraged many industrialists to start new units and I am one of them.”
Munjal was also known to take a round of his manufacturing plant early in the morning, interacting with the administrative staff and later meeting various clients through the day. He was quite regular in coming to office despite his age, a Hero staffer said.
“Employees join Hero Cycles and most of them leave the company after retirement, so there is a strong bonding between the employees and the company, which shows that Bauji considered all of them as his extended family,” Harsh Moudgill, another employee, said.
On Wednesday, the company had organised a vendors meet at Ludhiana that was attended by 400 vendors. Gurmeet Singh Kular, a vendor who attended the meet, said, “As companies expand, they start their operations in-house, but Hero Cycles increased their vendor base.”
OP Munjal was the youngest among his brothers — Dayanand, Satyanand and Brij Mohan Munjal.
He is survived by four daughters- Neeru, Neeta Seth, Poonam, Priyanka, and son Pankaj Munjal, the co-chairman of Hero Cycles. OP Munjal’s last rites will be performed at Ludhiana’s Model Town Extension cremation ground at 5 pm on August 14.